Spat Between Verizon And TV Company Presented Obstacle For Philadelphians Tuning Into Only Senate Debate
UNITED STATES - APRIL 16: Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, D-Pa., speaks with guests during a rally at the UFCW Local 1776 KS headquarters in Plymouth Meeting, Pa., on Saturday, April 16, 2022.
Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Some residents of Philadelphia may have been unable to view the only Pennsylvania Senate debate between Democratic Lt. Governor John Fetterman and Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz.

Fetterman, who suffered a stroke days before the primary elections, faltered and provided choppy responses throughout the hour-long contest as Oz, a veteran television host, aggressively pressed his opponent. The two candidates exchanged blows on a variety of topics on Tuesday evening as undecided Pennsylvania voters made final deliberations two weeks ahead of election day.

Nexstar Media Group, which broadcast the debate on stations throughout the commonwealth, is in the midst of a dispute with Verizon regarding a new distribution agreement. Verizon blacked out all Nexstar stations earlier this month, meaning that many Philadelphians attempting to watch the debate via television may have run into issues. However, the debate was also available to view for free on the websites belonging to Nexstar stations.

“We have offered to extend our agreement with Nexstar but they have refused an extension,” a webpage for Verizon asserts. Seven channels serving the Philadelphia market and two channels serving Harrisburg, the state capital, are impacted by the negotiations.

Given Fetterman’s lackluster performance, which occurred despite large closed captioning systems placed behind the moderators to aid with auditory processing, the obstacle presented to Philadelphians may have salient impacts on the midterm election results. President Joe Biden emerged victorious in the commonwealth two years ago because of college-educated voters residing in suburbs near the Keystone State’s largest city.

Meanwhile, roughly three-quarters of registered voters in Philadelphia County are affiliated with the Democratic Party, according to data from the Pennsylvania Department of State.

Fetterman’s poor showing on Tuesday was immediately noticed by both conservative and liberal commentators, while betting markets quickly shifted in favor of Oz. During the debate, Fetterman deflected when asked if he would commit to releasing his medical records or updating the public on his condition. “I believe if my doctor believes that I’m fit to serve, and, and that’s what I believe is appropriate,” Fetterman told moderators when questioned about his health. “And I believe that again, my doctors, the real doctors that I believe in, they all believe that I’m ready to be served.”

Noting that Oz had spent significant time on the airwaves during his decade-plus stint as a medical talk show host, the Fetterman campaign preemptively acknowledged the disparity between the two nominees and established low expectations for the Democrat in an emailed statement on Monday. “We are prepared for Oz’s allies and right-wing media to circulate malicious viral videos after the debate that try to paint John in a negative light because of awkward pauses, missing some words, and mushing other words together,” the message remarked. “John has had a remarkable recovery, but the ongoing auditory processing challenges are real.”

Oz spent much of his time during the debate mentioning examples of conversations he has shared with Pennsylvanians on issues such as crime and inflation over the past several months, repeatedly blasting Fetterman for failing to hit the campaign trail. As he mentioned to viewers, Oz had attempted for weeks to bring his opponent to the debate stage, which occurred after many Pennsylvanians had already cast their ballots in early voting.

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